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Randy Rhoads: the Early Years

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Randy received his first guitar at age six and a half. It was an old Gibson classical acoustic "Army-Navy" guitar that had belonged to his grandfather. Randy said later, "I just started trying to figure out different things on my own, so by the time I started taking lessons I had a pretty good idea of what to do." He began taking lessons with his sister Kathy at his side. To compliment his guitar lessons his mother gave Randy piano lessons to sharpen his sight reading skills and build his understanding of music theory.

In the beginning he studied folk and classical music. But Randy had little patience with his lessons, probably because of his insatiable desire to explore new ideas and expand his knowledge rather than sticking to the basics. "I did not want to be bothered with technique and learning scales," Randy said, but it is apparent in his later work that he learned these skills, embraced them and took them to their highest level by combining them in ways that had never been done in rock music before.

Ozzy Osbourne often spoke of Randy's innate ability to use his extensive knowledge of music in combination with current styles thereby pushing the level of musicality to new heights and explore paths that had not yet been touched. Ozzy said, "...when we were working on the albums, I would give him a melody and he would work a riff around it. Every hook he ever came up with I loved. He was original. We discovered that most heavy metal bands stick to one key -- I don't know about keys or read music or really understand notes because I just get up there and scream and jump around. ...He was so intelligent when it came to music. I can't even read music, but he knew everything. One day Randy came to me and said that most heavy metal songs are written in an A to E chord structure. He said, 'Let's try to change that' ...so we made a rule that almost every number that we recorded on an album was never played in the same key." It was this kind of creativity that has gave Randy a place as an innovator in the history of Rock and Roll.

At Musonia, Randy had his first experience with group performance. Mrs. Rhoads created a band-like setting focusing on a school orchestra model to prepare the students for future endeavors in the public system. His mother later said, "He couldn't have been more than eight years old at the time, maybe younger. But he would sit there and play his heart out because he enjoyed it. He was taking things a little on his own even then. His friends flocked to him to listen to his playing, but Randy wouldn't settle for that simple type of band music to play for his friends. He would branch out and do things that I wouldn't even know, which were probably the current hits of that time. He was learning to read music."

His mother made sure that Randy read music and performed as a part of the Musonia program. "To play in my little group that I had even way back then, he read the charts when he played. They called them charts; I just called it music in those days. But he had to read, because he couldn't play in the group unless he read. And then I worked with him when he was very young. I gave him some piano lessons, so he had to learn to read. I always make my students count very accurately and read properly and do everything the right way, so he had some help in that."

"Randy grew up musically in my school," his mother said in an interview, "I am sure he was influenced by this in many ways. He started when he was so young, he was somewhere between six-and-a-half and seven when he started lessons. In those days, way back then, we started them with the folk guitar where they learned the chords and a few pop songs."

His mother recalls Randy being different from other musicians, both young and old, adding "he played with feeling, which was so important.... he would say 'let's play with real feeling even though we're just playing for enjoyment.'" Randy's dedication was apparent from the start. He played sports and enjoyed all the things a junior high school child would, but music was always the first thing in his mind. His brother Kellie Rhoads, who played in one of Randy's first rock groups, remembers, "All Randy ever wanted to do was play the guitar. I don't remember him ever saying he wanted to do anything else. I can't remember a time before he played guitar."

Randy soon gained interest in the electric guitar, "I had an old Harmony down there and the guitar was almost larger than he was." said his mother, "it was a semi-acoustic, and he started on that. I fortunately had a very good electric guitar teacher at that time, Scott Shelly. He was very good, and that was fortunate because he was a good teacher and gave Randy a very good start. He made him play a lot of scales, made him use violin books for scale material. It was only about a year when Scott came to me and said, 'Well, I've taught Randy everything I can, he knows everything I can teach him.' I said, 'Oh, come on, you're just putting me on.' I thought he was teasing me, but he really meant it. That's the truth."

Randy attended First Lutheran School in Burbank and went on to attend John Muir Junior High School. At Burbank High School, Rhoads was in a special program that allowed him to condense his studies and graduate early in order to pursue his music. While he earned all good grades, he wanted to continue his musical education and teach in his mothers school.

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